When Gov. Steve Bullock proclaimed that he was going to create an Equal Pay for Equal Work Task Force, I was one of his loudest critics.
After all, I argued, it is plain to see that the wage gap between men and women is calculated not based on experience, ability, education, length of service, or type of job, but merely on gender.
In other words, if I were to select a pool of 10 female employees who had worked at Burger King for an average of 18 months and a pool of 10 male employees who had worked as truck drivers for an average of eight years, and then compared the wages of the 20 employees, I would discover that the men made twice as much (or more) than the women employees. If I were a community activist, I would then label this a wage gap and demand that women working at Burger King should be paid as much as truck drivers. Have I proven that a wage gap exists? Yes. Have I made any sense. No, none at all.
Yet, this is exactly the kind of sham social science that the media parrots every year on “Equal Pay Day” — the date that is supposed to represent how many extra days a woman needs to work to earn as much as a man works in a normal 365-day year. We are told, thus, that women in the aggregate earn approximately 70 percent of what men in the aggregate earn during a year. Because that number is associated with the phrase “Equal Pay for Equal Work,” we are suppose to be shocked, dismayed and go vote for Democrats at the next election.
But, of course, the 70 percent number that is trotted out (or whatever number is used that year) has NOTHING to do with discrimination. It has nothing to do with UNequal pay. It does not represent any kind of oppression of women. It is merely a statistical fact that gives an accurate snapshot of how much ALL women in our society make compared to how much ALL men make. The multitude of reasons for that variance is so large as to be virtually uncatalogable.
And that is why I owe an apology to Gov. Bullock and his task force — because when I looked at the conclusions of the task force, they were virtually identical to my own.
Oh sure, the rhetoric is complete liberal nonsense. The governor insists on declaring things like “I believe that ALL of Montana’s worker’s deserve a fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work” as if he were the first person to entertain that DEEP THOUGHT!
I’ll go you one better, governor. I believe that virtually all of Montana’s workers DO get a fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work — which means they don’t get the same wage for different work!
As a workplace manager, I know that rules exist that ensure that employers not cheat women or members of any other class of people out of their rightful wages. But I, like most people, don’t need those rules in place to know what is fair. Most people work to be honest and fair without being told to do so. Most people also know that paying all workers the same exact wage is not fair for any number of reasons.
Fortunately, the governor’s task force knows that, too. The task force held an Equal Pay Summit earlier this month in Butte, and focused not on phantom numbers but on phasing in change. And that is the key to the “wage gap.” The United States and the entire world are in the midst of a great revolution in the role of women in the workplace that has come about as a result of social upheaval, medical advances, and technological revolution. Planning for more change just makes sense, and encouraging women to enter more challenging, more rewarding, and better paying fields is part of that change.
There is evidence on the task force’s website at www.equalpay.mt.gov that partisan ideological bleatings about “social justice” and “gender discrimination” were at some point supplanted by calm, cool analysis. In a presentation put together by Barbara Wagner, chief economist at the Montana Department of Labor and Industry, you can read the following:
“What causes the wage gap? It’s not ALL discrimination.” The list of explanations for the wage gap is the same one I have been writing about in my column for several years: Occupational choice, industry choice, education, experience, part-time work/flexible scheduling, time out of work force for family care, and union status. A disclaimer on the page noted that “some of these factors may be influenced by discrimination,” but clearly most of those factors are personal choices, and certainly not the responsibility of the employer.
The study also notes in explanation that women choosing to work in low-paying industries accounts for up to one-half of the so-called wage gap. It is also apparent that the many other factors cited can easily explain why women make less than men on the whole without resorting to demonizing employers.
This is not to say that discrimination does not ever exist. There are corrupt corporate environments where evil practices do take place, but they are few and far between. My own mother worked for many years in a corporation where she was treated by her male colleagues like a secretary even though she was a manager. After she left that company in disgust, women employees brought a class-action suit and proved their claim that they were being systematically discriminated against. Good for them.
But let’s not just paint everyone in society with the same broad brush. Look at the facts. The wage gap is not some kind of capitalist plot; it is a natural result of a large combination of factors, almost all of which are innocent. And in the long run, there should be no such thing as equal pay, but rather equitable pay — the pay that is deserved based on responsibility, performance, qualifications, experience and dedication.
Employers need the discretion to pay their best employees what they are worth, without looking over their shoulder and fearing someone will accuse them of discrimination.
Frank Miele is the managing editor of the Daily Inter Lake in Kalispell, Montana.